“Will it be much longer now?” Sarah clutched her mother’s hand, nervous to meet her father for the first time.
Her mother appeared to stare off into the distance, past their luscious, manicured lawn, past the long roadway that rolled along the countryside but which no car had ever driven down, and even further, past the bright white fluffy clouds and into the deep blue sky itself.
“No, not much longer.” Christina’s soft words floated to the young girl at her side.
Sarah was used to her mother staring off down the lane, waiting and watching. Every day after breakfast they came out of the mansion, through the expansive gardens that always smelled sweet and hummed with fat bumblebees, to stand and wait at the roadway. That day had started like all the others but there was something different in the way her mother’s neck stretched and pulled as if she could see something more than the green rolling hills.
“Tell me about Father again. I never get tired of hearing the stories.”
Christina smiled down at her child’s perfect face. Her eyes and hair were Christina’s own, but her nose and cheeks were all Ed’s, Sarah’s father’s. It comforted her to see his contribution to their creation he had never gotten to witness. They’d had other children, of course, but the four of them were still with their father at that moment, surrounding him, holding his hand, and hugging each other.
“And I never get tired of telling them.” Christina looked back to the horizon and kept a valiant vigil as she spoke. “We met at a drive-in theatre. We don’t have those here, but they were great fun. Lots of us from school would gather on Friday nights to watch the newest movies. Your father had an old Cadillac that had belonged to his father and wow, was it ugly.”
Sarah smiled as she listened to the story, almost able to tell it herself after having heard her mom tell it so often. One of the best things about the stories was that almost every time her mom would remember something new to add richness with details. It had become a game for Sarah to see if she could spot the new memories that were coming back to her mother. “Remember how it would smell?”
Christina chuckled. “Oh, yes, it smelled horrible, worse than it looked, if that were possible.”
“But you didn’t mind because you liked him so much. It was all part of his charm, right?”
“Right. Plus, I always brought a little pocket money to buy popcorn to help cover the smell a bit. Once we started dating, I never had to use the money. Your father always insisted on paying, ever the gentleman. It was kind of a tradition in those days. Anyway, before that, we met one night when the movie was particularly boring. It had been playing for several weeks at that point and we’d already seen it a couple of times. My friends and I had all come together in my friend’s new Buick. A few of them stayed to watch the movie, but my best friend and I decided to go on a walk.”
“Her name was Claire, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. Claire and I walked around that night. It was too beautiful of a night to not feel the soft, warm air and try to get a glimpse of stars.”
“And maybe some boys?”
“Definitely some boys.” Her mom’s eyes sparkled a little as she glanced at the daughter for a moment. “As we walked by this ugly, green Cadillac, two boys waved us over. There were sitting on the trunk of the car, not even facing the movie.”
“That’s because they thought you two were so beautiful and way better than the movie, right?”
“That’s what your father told me years later. They introduced themselves as Ed and Markus. Claire and I also thought they were cute, but we didn’t tell them that. Claire took a liking to Ed right away, so Markus and I ended up getting paired up. We chatted that night and then hung out with them a few more times after that. Markus was good looking and friendly but—”
“He just wasn’t right for you. Right, mom? He wasn’t Dad.”
She nodded with a faint smile that was somewhat pained as she stared into the clouds. “Exactly. He wasn’t dad. Claire and Ed went on a few dates and Markus and I started dating. It was a difficult time for me. I really liked Ed. He was charming, sweet, and the funniest person I’d ever met. He was brilliantly witty and made jokes out of the simplest things. He surprised me all the time, even when we grew old. Remember, that, Sarah. When it’s your turn to look for a companion, find someone who can make you laugh. It fixes so many things.”
“I will, Mama.”
“I made sure to tell all your siblings that when they were growing up, but they didn’t always listen. So yes, Claire was also my friend and I couldn’t betray her like that—steal her man and date someone after she’d dated them. That was kind of an unspoken rule among girlfriends. Anyone who did that wasn’t kept as a friend for long.”
“But you liked Ed so much, and you thought he liked you, right?”
“Yes, I suspected he did, anyway. It didn’t take long, though, before Claire moved on to someone else at school. She told me it was because she’d found Ed to be boring. She was like that, sometimes, just hopping around until she’d find someone that was exciting for a time. I found myself hanging out with Markus and Ed by myself. Me as Markus’s girlfriend and Ed as the third wheel.”
“What did Father do that made you think he liked you?”
“I’d catch him looking my way all the time. Whenever he noticed me noticing him, he’d look away quickly but there was always the faintest blush on his cheeks.”
“What else did he do?”
“Sometimes he’d find an excuse to touch me. It was innocent enough, like our arms brushing against each other or perhaps our legs resting side-by-side if we happened to be sitting next to each other. It was little things, but we didn’t want it to be too obvious. We must not have been very good at hiding it. Come to think of it, the most obvious thing was probably how we talked and joked with each other. We could talk for hours, even with Markus hanging around. Eventually, Markus must have figured it out because one day we were hanging out in his basement, like we always did, chatting, goofing around on his guitar, and maybe even doing a little bit of homework. Markus had gone to the bathroom upstairs and Ed and I hadn’t thought much about it. We just kept talking and laughing like we usually did but when Markus came back, something had changed. I’ll never know what inspiration hit him while he was upstairs alone, but his eyes were studying us like he’d only just seen us for the first time.”
“He finally figured out that you two were meant to be together.”
“I guess. Ed and I later theorized that it was the way we were looking at each other when Markus came back into the room. We weren’t making out or anything, but we had both turned to each other on the couch, me with my leg tucked up under me, my knee poking out of a hole in my jeans, just barely touching his leg. He’d just told me a story about something ridiculous that had happened to him the Halloween before and I was laughing so hard, tears were peeking out of my eyes.”
“Was Markus mad?”
Christina was quiet for a moment, her attention focused elsewhere. It was more difficult each time Ed’s chest rose and fell. His breathing was raspy, and his hands trembled from old age, effort, and anticipation. Each of their kids, their spouses, and their kids took turns speaking to their father but Christina was too far away to hear the words. She saw their tears and the way they gripped each other’s shoulders in attempted comfort. Her own heart picked up the pace and she trembled as well. Was this finally going to be the moment?
“Mother?” Sarah tugged on the hand she was holding. “Was he mad?”
Her eyes still focused on the distance, but she was able to speak the familiar story well enough. “If he was, he never told us or showed us. In fact, he was gracious about the whole thing. He encouraged us to date and often said that he was happy for us. Actually, he ended up being your dad’s best man at our wedding two years later.”
“And Claire? Was she upset when she found out you two were dating?”
“Maybe a little, but she laughed it off, saying she could tell we shared a connection right away. Sometimes that’s just the way love is—everyone can see when two people belong together, even if they don’t see it themselves.”
Ed’s chest pushed out oxygen for the last time in his mortal body. The children’s heads dropped in sadness and they turned to their living loved ones for comfort. Christina’s heart went out to them and wished she could hold them all, tell them that everything was okay and that they would once again be all together. It was just going to take a little bit of time. But, she couldn’t. She was too far away and out of reach.
Christina’s hand tightened around her daughter’s, a hand she could touch, and she looked down in her warm, brown eyes. “It’s time, baby girl. Your father is on his way to meet us.”
“I’m so excited. It seems like it’s been waiting forever.”
“It’s been much longer for him, I promise. Time moves differently down there than it does up here. He might be confused about everything for a moment.”
“It’s okay. Once he sees us and we can explain everything to him, he’ll be so happy.”
“What will you say to him?”
“I’ll give him a big hug and say ‘Welcome to Heaven, Daddy. We’ve been waiting for you’.”